Gazing Down on a Glacier: Grinnell Glacier Overlook

In Glacier National Park, one of the most popular and rewarding trails takes hikers to Grinnell Glacier, which sits at about 6,500 feet, nestled into the crook of the mountains behind it.

Or you can hike up a challenging spur trail off of the equally popular Highline Trail and gaze down on this amazing glacier from above.

The Grinnell Overlook spur trail is only about a half a mile, but it’s one of the toughest half miles I’ve hiked. In that half mile, you’ll gain 900 feet in elevation. (I tried to figure out the grade of that incline but math is hard, so feel free to give it a shot and let me know.) Adding to the challenge is the fact that the entire half mile of trails consists of scree, or loose shards of rock that make footing difficult and slippery.

When you gain that much elevation in such a short amount of time, this is what happens to your lunch.

A little about Grinnell Glacier: It’s one of only 25 glaciers left in the park, which had 150 a century ago. It’s tiny, in glacial terms, filling only ten percent of the space it occupied a hundred years ago. It’s one of the easiest glaciers for visitors to access, and it’s still stunning, despite its shrinking size.

Scientists predict that all the glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone in about fifteen years. At that point I’m not sure the Grinnell Overlook will be worth the effort. Without question, the park itself will continue to be a worthwhile destination, with its the glacially carved mountains, green valleys, and alpine meadows, and sparkling lakes. But the clock is ticking on its namesake feature, so head out to Montana sooner rather than later to get a glimpse of what is soon to be history.


World’s Most Beautiful Canoe Rescue

We just spent nine days in the Canadian Rockies, and for some reason, the first thing I want to write about is this canoe rescue on Emerald Lake.

I believe it is probably the world’s most beautiful canoe rescue.

Emerald Lake is in Yoho National Park, which maybe you’ve never heard of because everyone talks about Banff. Yoho is Banff’s quiet but equally beautiful neighbor.

Many of the lakes in Yoho are fed by glaciers. As a result, they are this intense, milky, Tiffany blue. If Disney made a lake, they would dye it this color.

These lakes are blue because as the glaciers melt, the water carries rock flour with it, and that flour refracts light in such a way that makes it look insane. So there’s a bit of vague science for you.

Back to the canoe rescue.

Visitors can drive right up to Emerald Lake, so it’s a popular stop for charter buses with names like Cheerful Holiday and Splendid Vacation Time, full of foreign and elderly camera-ready tourists. So there were a lot of people enjoying the show. And quite certainly I’m not the only one who brought back photos.

Glacial water is cold. But these two faced it bravely. No shouts, no crying. Just a silent canoe tip and a stoic effort to not sink the boat.

Clearly embarrassed, they calmly treaded water and listened to the directions from the forbearing parks guy, who walked them through a T-rescue.

The folly of inexperienced tourists in national parks usually makes me grouchy, but I was quite entertained. Probably because of the calming effect of the blue waters.